Netanyahu retains final say in future talks with Palestinians

Friday 15/05/2015
Netanyahu’s discreet confidant

JERUSALEM - Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will have the final say in future peace talks with the Palestinians, an official said Tuesday, after Interior Minister Silvan Shalom was entrusted to oversee negotiations.

"The prime minister is responsible for the negotiations. Silvan Shalom will be holding the meetings with the Palestinians along with Yitzhak Molcho, the personal envoy of the premier," the official said on condition of anonymity.

On Monday, Netanyahu announced he had charged Shalom, a veteran member of his rightwing Likud party, with conducting peace talks with the Palestinians.

Molcho, a discreet lawyer and Netanyahu confidant, was part of the last round of US-brokered negotiations conducted by then-justice minister Tzipi Livni with the Palestinians.

The talks fell apart in April 2014, and prospects for their renewal seem bleak with a lack of trust between the sides exacerbated by the formation of Netanyahu's new hardline coalition.

The government is among Israel's most rightwing ever and contains several ministers openly hostile to a Palestinian state.

The head of leftwing opposition party Meretz on Tuesday slammed Shalom's "empty" position.

"This is a sad joke," said Zehava Galon, noting past remarks Shalom had made against a Palestinian state.

Netanyahu, however, reiterated his desire to reach a peace accord with the Palestinians.

According to the prime minister, neighbouring states consider Israel a "central partner" in dealing with "regional threats," referring to Iran's nuclear programme and extremist Islamic militants.

"We will take every effort to translate that partnership to create stability and peace, including the attempt to create a responsible peace agreement with the Palestinians that will safeguard Israel's interests," he said.

The Palestinians, however, reiterated their doubts.

"Netanyahu says he wants peace and appoints a head of the negotiations team, while on the ground he destroys peace and continues settlement building," chief negotiator Saeb Erakat said.

The new government's place was in front of "international courts", he said, referring to the International Crime Court which the Palestinians joined last month in a bid to sue Israel over alleged war crimes.